- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
The basics of salmon fishing are simple. All you need to remember is that big fish eat little fish. In the case of salmon, the little fish are usually anchovies, herring or candlefish. Although it doesn’t much matter which baitfish the salmon are exploiting, your goal is to find the bait that is working and to stay with it.
You can usually find baitfish by keeping a keen eye on your depth finder. Good-sized schools of bait will turn the screen black; smaller bait schools will look like a haystack. Once you find the bait, the options are trolling, drifting (mooching) or jigging. No matter which method you choose, the goal is to imitate a wounded baitfish. When salmon attack a school of bait, they maim and wound as many as possible. Wounded baitfish usually swim in erratic circles or fall toward the bottom in a spiraling freefall. To fool the salmon into believing our bait or lure is a wounded baitfish, one must match, as closely as possible, the size, shape and color of the locally prevalent baitfish. To successfully match the action of a wounded baitfish you need to employ a lure that is designed to make slow, erratic circles, or a jig that falls in an erratic circular motion.
Nothing makes a day like a couple of monster kings in the boat.
If you choose to use baitfish such as herring or anchovies, the goal is to rig them so that any forward motion through the water column (such as trolling or drifting in heavy current) causes the bait to do that slow spin that salmon find so enticing. There are about a million ways to affect the way the bait spins. Most anglers control spin by removing the bait’s head with a cut beveled in two directions. This is called a cut-plug bait. Those who prefer whole baits use plastic bait holders to achieve the desired slow roll, or adjust the placement of their hook to get that sexy roll. This is more art than science. Beginners will need to experiment until they find what works best for them. Just remember that if the bait or lure is moving and rolling, it will get 10 times as many strikes as one that is just hanging there.
Timing The Run
With a range from San Francisco to Nome, Alaska, the timing of salmon runs varies tremendously. For example, big Chinook salmon enter the Columbia River in February, while Chinook in Alaska tend to come back to their native rivers in June and July. In broad general terms, Chinook salmon are the first to arrive from the northern feeding grounds. Mature Chinook should begin showing in good numbers in June and may continue through October. But immature Chinook, called blackmouth, are often found in inshore waters all year long. Coho almost always arrive after the Chinook, usually from August through November. Chums and pink salmon usually arrive in nearshore waters from July through October. To learn when the salmon arrive in your area, have a chat with local tackle shops and the serious anglers who hang out there. Consider joining a fishing club. Either way, try to get in touch with the best salmon anglers in your area.
Top Tricks To Take More Salmon
To find the best salmon action, it's critical to be on the water as the fish congregate near the rivers before they make the spawning run.
Once it’s determined when the salmon will be in your area, where the large bait schools can be found, and which bait or lure closely imitates a wounded baitfish, it’s time to get serious about fishing. The following tips will make you a better fisherman whether you troll, mooch or jig fish.
Use The Best Possible Bait—Fresh, bright baits are considerably more effective than the dull, soft bait most of us sometimes use. If possible, use only fresh, lively baits. Even if you don’t intend to fish the bait alive, it’s best to start the day with live bait. Anything from a simple livewell crafted from a bucket or an ice chest will do. Keep replacing the water with fresh seawater every 10 to 15 minutes. If fishing with cut-plugs, wait to kill the bait until it’s needed. Fresh baits are firm, with all their scales intact, and they have a pleasant smell.
Scents Make Sense—Take care to wash your hands in seawater before touching a bait or lure. Once the bait is on the hook never let it touch the floor of the boat, where it may pick up the smell of oil or gasoline. Be especially careful to avoid strong smelling scents such as sunscreen, gasoline, motor oil or tobacco. And don’t be afraid to use scents to increase the appeal of your bait.
Be Observant And Versatile—Keep your eyes open, and if there’s a marine radio on board, keep your ears on. Do as much investigative work as necessary to find out what the locals are using that day. Don’t stubbornly stick to the lure that worked last time, especially if it’s clear the locals have switched to something else. Salmon are notoriously fickle. What worked yesterday may not work today. Don’t be afraid to switch to today’s “lure du jour.”
Get Things In Order—Before leaving the pier, try to have all rods rigged, bait cut and boat fully organized. Every top guide I have ever fished with has been a marvel of efficiency. The reason is simple: every minute spent on the water represents a chance to catch fish. When drifting around aimlessly running through a tackle box that looks like a hurricane hit a tackle shop, valuable bait-in-the-water time is lost.
Often thought of as creatures of the deep, salmon will frequently be found in the upper reaches of the water column.
When In Doubt, Fish Shallow—Coho, pinks and chum salmon all tend to feed in the top 20 feet of the water column. Remember that fact, and the fact that salmon always look up when they feed, and it’s clear that baits or lures should be kept near the surface. The problem is, fish that are near the surface tend to be spooked by boat noise. The solution is to use a very light weight and long line. A deadly technique for all salmon, except Chinook, is to use a 1-ounce weight with a cut-plug herring on a very long line. Fish with at least 100 feet of line out and you will find the fish are much more receptive to your offering.
Be Consistently Inconsistent—Salmon hate consistency. Underwater videos have shown that at least a half dozen salmon will follow your lure for every one that actually strikes. If you want to trigger a salmon into striking, do something to make the lure or bait behave erratically. Steering a constantly zigzagging course will keep your lures constantly slowing down and speeding up. The lure on the outside of the turn will speed up and lift toward the surface, while the one on the inside will slow and fall. Often, that small change in speed and depth will trigger a strike. Another trick to vary a lure’s action is to grab the mainline between the reel and the first rod guide and pull hard. This will make the lure leap forward and then drop back as line is released. That very trick will often trigger a trailing fish to strike.
Stay Sharp—No list of tips would be complete without mentioning the importance of sticky, sharp hooks. Sure, you have heard this a hundred times, but that’s because it’s true. Razor sharp hooks will more than double your hookups. Few hooks are sharp enough when they come out of the package. Personally, I’ve found that high-end hooks like Gamakatsu’s are as close to perfect sharpness as any. You have two choices: either pay the higher price for extra sharp hooks or keep a hook file handy.
When the fish get picky, it pays to downsize line strength and lengthen the distance from boat to lure.
Go Longer, Go Lighter—There is often an inverse ratio to a salmon angler’s success and the weight of the tackle they use. The pros almost always use lighter gear than the once-a-year crowd. There are several reasons why lighter gear will give an angler the edge. Light lines let your lure do its magic. The heavier your line and leader, the more it tends to dampen the action of your bait or lure. By dropping down from 20-pound leaders to 12-pound leaders, the lure’s action will improve dramatically. In addition, salmon are often leader shy. Switching to long, light leaders will draw strikes from fish that are put off by heavier, more visible leaders. This rule is doubly important when fishing in the gin-clear water often found in the Northwest.
Never Say Die—Top salmon guides don't give up just because the fishing is tough. Especially on the tough days, you need to plan to stay around as long as possible. Salmon are as unpredictable as any game fish we have in the Northwest. Some of the hottest bites happen after hours and hours of absolute dead zone fishing. If you know there are fish around, put in your time until the bites come.
Putting It All Together
If you keep all these tricks in mind, I guarantee your success rate will shoot up dramatically. None of these tips will guarantee a hook up, but using every trick in the arsenal will move you into that 10 percent of the anglers that catch 90 percent of the salmon.